One night I stood at the window in a friend’s darkened bedroom. Lights and voices were ablaze past the wall in the living room. I looked into a blue night, engulfed by it, and held the phone to my ear. It was my father on the other end. He was proud.
I was alive. I had made it home in my new city. I was a wired tired after the day that had gone down. His voice was curious awe and anchored like a dispatcher’s, calling from time eternal. My dad, long-ago adventurer, had rooted himself to a spot, dispatched me into this world, and listened while I reported my view, this time from a New York City street corner while the World Trade Center burned.
He wanted to be where I was. Where the action was. Where history unfolded. To him, in his anchored life, I lived wishes.
I felt adult and child at once. On the phone with my father, I remembered the thoughts that had plagued me earlier that morning. I had been calculating how many people died from the first plane’s impact, more to the point, how many people would open their doors that night to a coroner, telling them their loved one was dead.
How many times had I remembered the coroner’s blond messy curls. The run in her ivory-colored stockings. The mute cop by her side. And the view into the living room, my tall dad in my mom’s teal robe–grabbed in haste on the way out of bed–hearing that his son was gone. My brother.
That may have been the day my anchor lifted, and my father’s dropped. That’s only a guess. I’ll let him tell his own story. In my story, it’s where the drift began, far far away to an island where I could hear but couldn’t speak. My internal world set up an ocean between it and the nearest dry land. Miles apart and the water wide, it would take a very long journey to return.
A story a day.
Mined from memory.
Framed by loss.
For the purpose of unearthing what’s in there.
Remembering what has been.
Honoring it if it is there to be honored.
We want to be seen. Don’t we? As humans in our experience? Acknowledged, understood. Is it possible that memories do too?
We are permeable. When we live with the presence of loss, it moves through us. It comes. It goes. When we do not let it go, we get trapped in it as it get trapped in us.
Writing is a way to let live the things that have gone numb in us. Rusted shut. I want to breathe into memories that are packed away, and let them live, as vital figures. Honor the time and presence they served in my life. I am whole for experiencing them. And hobbled for not sharing them. Here, I am setting them free.
It is a simple project. I invite you to join me. I will be writing a story daily for thirty-one days. From August 11 to September 11, 2011, I’ll be writing a memory triggered by something that has gone away. Or someone I’ve lost. A feeling, a place. Letting it live in narrative. Letting my emotions live there too. Letting it come to life instead of quieting it because it hurts.
I’m doing this because 9/11 presented our nation with so much trauma and grief at once, that in order to find a reference for understanding it, it shook loose my personal traumas that came before. You know when you hear a new musician, and you compare her to others in order to describe her style? It was like that. My mind went searching my history to understand how 3,000 people could die in the space of a morning, and two buildings could disappear. All it could find were feelings deserted by traumas long since buried, left in the past for more tenable promises in the future.
If this amplified trauma was the case in my life, mine, one person’s, what would become of the city of people who questioned their fate that day, counted their relationships among the living? And Washington DC’s? And the nation’s? What would become of us collectively if individually, our internal structures back flowed with fear and grief, wavered and swayed and created fear in place of meaning where there yet existed none in this new experience?
This month, ten years later, my stories will be in remembrance of the people lost on that day, and of those living whose losses ended a vitality they have yet to re-find. Mine included. What or whom will your stories remember? Release?
Grief is transformation
This exercise does not set out to be painful. Sometimes the exercise of grief is just a witnessing of what once was. A sound. A place. An idea. Once you give it witness you can let it go, transmute it into what it was meant to become. That said, we creatures of habit and lovers of love will find pain, usually a lot of it, in loss.
When we surrender to grief, we become what is meant for us to be on the other side of it. We become stronger, more supple individuals, in a stronger, more supple collective–family, community, neighborhood, nation.
Story is transformation
When we tell it, we release it. When we hear or read it, we move through a catharsis with the teller. In their change, we are changed.
My fear is this, and has been for 10 years: Who wants to hear about grief? Worse, who wants to mine for her own? Get close enough to his to feel it? We are a happy lot, posting and buying our fixes in the Twittermall, driving our cars to the next place. And then the next. Grief is allowed in our Western culture for a short, short time. But it lives on and on. If we bury it, grief gestates. It begins to rule our lives in sideways attempts at escaping. But if we air it out and let it move through us, it weaves into our tapestry like the rest of our experiences, broadening and softening our humanness.
I am putting my Pollyanna aside to witness. And to wonder aloud, “Who doesn’t feel loss? Who is foreign to the human experience?”
I turned 40 last month. For my birthday I held a story circle. Each of us told a story, one that got triggered into memory by another teller’s story. We went in no order but a reactionary one…my story triggers your story which triggers Dave’s story. I didn’t have my story until almost the end when suddenly, the story before mine opened up an experience in me that was the perfect one for me to share that night. The evening was rich. We laughed. We went deep, following a few tellers into intimate experiences. Bounced with others on the surface. We marveled at the moments people shared and at the people themselves. We were moved by each other. Even changed.
Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.
If the project swells, I’ll install Linky, so that we can house all of the stories right here on the daily post.
Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.
Just a note for the sake of tender hearts and shared experiences, comments on this blog project will be moderated. Its priority is to be a place to share, and to inspire writing through transformation, no matter how brief the piece. Any comments construed as negative or critical will be removed.
Love your neighbor.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for passing the experience along to your friends. Thanks for opening up to the blossomy ride of a small seed in dark soil breaking into the light.
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Post script from the future:
You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar ––>